Freaking Out About Perfume

Seems in recent years, it’s become something of a trend to freak out about perfume, whether we use it ourselves or smell it on someone else. Clean air policies are popping up in office spaces and schools. But ‘clean air’ is a buzz term that doesn’t mean anything. Yes, we can clean the air of fragrances, but our air is far from clean and may never be clean again. We live in an alarmist culture where we’re made to believe almost anything that isn’t “natural” or derived from the good old soil we walk on is inherently bad for us.

When someone makes that argument with me, I immediately turn around and ask about nature’s ability to poison, harm, and kill us. The oleander, for instance, produces beautiful flowers. Would kill you if smoke from burning flowers was inhaled.

So I don’t really blame anyone for being wary of man made products. A lot of man made stuff is bad for us. I could take the easy route and point at processed foods that are helping to perpetuate our “obesity epidemic”. But when it comes to freaking out about your fragrances, how much do you really have to worry about?

It has always been my stance that freak outs about minor things like perfume use when you don’t have a severe allergy is about as good for you as hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It’s basically like this, you’re causing yourself unnecessary stress over something that affects you on a relatively minor scale.

By all accounts and purposes, day to day living is more hazardous to your health than a couple of spritzes of perfume. If you happen to wear perfume every day, think of what else you’re subconsciously exposed to that’s probably worse. The air we breathe is polluted. The food we eat isn’t fresh. The food we eat is processed. We drive cars that spit out fumes that we breathe in. We bathe in water that’s chemically treated. We drink water that’s been sterilized. We live in a society with cell phone towers, wi-fi, signals and other forms of silent noise. On and on.

The real question here is why everyone is so concerned with living naturally? Do we just want to age gracefully or do we want to avoid cancer? Will avoiding all these “chemicals” and “risk factors” really prevent cancer? Or are we just wasting our time freaking out about things we cannot hope to change?

But more and more people are getting cancer.
More and more people are also living beyond life expectancies. Before modern medicine, someone in their 50s was considered ancient. These days, reaching 50 is an expected norm. Aging is one of the major risk factors for cancer and you can’t stop aging no matter how many natural products you use. Everyone ages and eventually everyone dies (I welcome someone to stop this process though). The sad truth of the matter is, cancer is prevalent in our lives and it isn’t going to go away until we find a cure and finding a cure for cancer is problematic for a myriad of reasons. But there’s a silver lining in all this. Our cancer death rates have been going down.

Why do all perfumes have this list of ingredients with nothing but chemicals on them?
Most of time when I hear this, people are talking about the ingredients list on the back of a perfume bottle or perfume box. That list of ingredients isn’t half the story of what’s actually in your perfume. The list is there for people to check for compounds they may be allergic to. But I will address this misconception anyway. Almost everything you see on that list is a fragrance in some way. For instance, if you see “geraniol” that is “geranium”. If you see, “citronellol” that is citrus. They make up a scent base for the fragrance that you are about to enjoy (or not enjoy, whatever). Their names might look scary, but many of those ingredients are components from naturally occurring plants.

All these perfume chemicals are leaching into my bloodstream though.
All those chemicals are miniscule in comparison to everything else you’re exposed to. Most of the content in a spray of perfume is alcohol (sometimes water) anyway, and most of us have no trouble with alcohol contacting our skin. You take in more harmful elements just standing around and breathing. Or swallowing the seeds of an apple. Or accidentally graze some poison ivy.

What’s your problem with natural products anyway?
I have absolutely no problem with natural products or natural ingredients when used sensibly and safely. In fact, I am a huge fan of natural perfumery and think it’s a beautiful art. I do, however, find it disturbing how many people are willing to believe that natural products/ingredients are better and that anything nature made is harmless or beneficial. Once again, nature does not always make it best. There are thousands–maybe millions–of things in nature that  could potentially harm us. I mentioned oleander earlier in this post. You may also wish to look up bitter almond, hemlock, and calla lily.

If you feel better living naturally, I can applaud your efforts. But realize that some things are not as bad or as good for you as they may seem. Please also note that while I do often try to clear the name of synthetic fragrances, I do not propose that synthetics are entirely innocent and safe. Just like with naturals, you should be wary but not be scared. I have always been an advocate of critical thought. Question everything, question everybody, and you may surprise yourself with the results.